Aboriginal Art

A New Not-For-Profit Fashion Collection From The Top End

After moving to Darwin in 2012, Crystal Thomas immediately fell in love with the textiles being produced by Top End art centres. ‘They were bold, bright and striking. Hand-printed on community, they were full of joy and life. Each carried a story of place, of people, of country,’ she explains.

The interior designer found that many of the beautiful, hand-screened prints were only being sold locally, and at a handful of outlets in the NT capital. So, she set out to establish NORTH, a platform that could bring these textiles to the wider national and international markets.

Elle Murrell

Dakota and Jenna Tipuamantumirri (granddaughters of artist Cornelia Tipuamantumirri) wear Tiwi Jumpsuit in Nina’s Jilamara Tigers. Photo – Matt Sav.

Cassie Puruntatameria (daughter of artist Nina Lydwina Puruntatamer) wears Tiwi Cropped Cami and Tiwi Wrap Skirt in Kaye’s Jilamara Natural (left) Photo – Hillary Faye. Dakota and Jenna Tipuamantumirri wear Tiwi Jumpsuit in Nina’s Jilamara Tigers (right) Photo – Matt Sav.

Shaniqua Shaw wears Tiwi Boxy Top and Casual Pant both in Michelle’s Jilamara Nude and Black. Photo – Hillary Faye.

Cassie Puruntatameria wears Tiwi 3/4 Shirt Dress in Cornelia’s Jilamara. Photo – Hillary Faye.

Shaniqua Shaw wears Tiwi Boxy Top and Casual Pant both in Michelle’s Jilamara Nude and Black. Photo – Hillary Faye.

Shaniqua Shaw and Cassie Puruntatameria wear Tiwi 3/4 Shirt Dress in Dymphna’s Jilamara Natural and Cornelia’s Jilamara (left) Photo – Hillary Faye. Cassie Puruntatameria wears Tiwi Cropped Cami in Kaye’s Jilamara Natural (right) Photo – Matt Sav.

Elle Murrell
11th of July 2019

‘NORTH has become the work of many generous hands and talented individuals,’ Crystal Thomas states, explaining that the look, feel, ethos and business foundation of the social enterprise has been an entirely collaborative process. NORTH’s small team, including Honey Hunter and a board of directors – Jenna Tipuamantumirri, Anisha Stifhold, Anna Moegerlein and Vinay Menon – endeavour to be a two-way bridge between community and the market. ‘When stories can travel between the artist, customer and back to the artist, that’s where NORTH has really found our magic.’

‘Our mission is to facilitate the economic agency of remote Aboriginal artists and art centres by generating business and creating meaningful employment opportunities on country. In turn, we aim to strengthen community pride and agency,’ Crystal tells. This begins with the art centre and artists, where collaboration is responsive to the needs and communication style of the art centre manager, centre as a whole, and individual artists. ‘We try to be careful not to come in with too strong an idea of what we want the artists to want out of the project – this can unconsciously dominate a creative process and potentially stifle a beautiful and unique idea from entering the conversation,’ she explains. ‘At the same time, we must maintain an awareness of what we have capacity for and that which would be sustainable and marketable.’

NORTH’s debut range, the Home Collection (2014) was closely followed by the Melville Island Upholstery Collection (2015), featuring the work of Cornelia Tipuamantumirri, a senior artist from Munupi Art Centre and the Tiwi Islands. ‘At that time, the screen printing studio at Munupi was no longer functional, Cornelia and her family were really happy to see those designs shared through the collection,’ details Crystal.

The not-for-profit went on to produce a range of cushions, a lifestyle collection and another upholstery collection, all featuring hand-screen printed designs from artists based in the Top End, before collaborating on a sleepwear collection featuring hand bush-dyed silk by Anindilyakwa women. Last year marked NORTH’s first fashion range, Warlu, featuring digitally printed designs from Walpiri artists’ paintings. The label further details its close collaborations, with artists including Bernadette Mungatopi, Kieren Karritpul, Dymphna Kerinauia, Nina Lydwina Puruntatameri, Michelle Woody and Kaye Brown, through its journal and beautiful films.

In development since 2017, The current Tiwi Strong Women’s collection has brought NORTH back to the Tiwi Islands. The range features pieces for women and men, in linen, as well as silk scarves and cushions. All the print designs were hand-made on community, and put onto screen through a workshop with artist Timothy Growcott. Each garment is hand-sewn in Melbourne by North’s seamstress Irina, whose partner Ken designed the patterns, while the accessories are hand-made by Honey and Crystal on Crystal’s deck in Darwin.

‘Knowing that the desire was there and community wanted this project, it was simply a story of capacity. It means a lot that through the development of NORTH as a social enterprise we have the capacity to work so closely with community, and for this collaboration to engage artists in putting brand new designs on screen,’ says Crystal. ‘It’s really special to have Cornelia Tipuamantumirri featured in this collection, it feels as if we’ve come full circle’.

The manufacture of NORTH’s ‘Tiwi Strong Women’ collection is being funded through its current pre-order campaign, while selected pieces will be available to purchase directly online from August 2019. Find out more about the social enterprise and view all the ranges at Northhome.org.

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